Category Archives: Division

What the John Johnson Collection tells us about gender in early modern Britain

Written by Kasturi Pindar, Bodleian Libraries intern, Summer 2023

The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, held at the Bodleian Libraries Special Collections, contains a multitude of images of early modern people who transgressed gender norms. Amongst these images, no two are the same. One image depicts two figures standing in a laundry room. It is captioned ‘Abigail Mary Allen, Pretended Wife of James Allen’ and ‘James Allen, The Female Husband’. Others depict people who, assigned female at birth, donned men’s clothing in order to serve in the military, particularly at sea. One such image is of ‘Mary Anne Talbot, otherwise John Taylor, Foot Boy, Drummer, Sailor, etc. etc. etc.’ Another, shows ‘Miss Theodora de Verdion. The walking Bookseller, and Teacher of Languages, dressed as a Man.’ We also come across Anne Jane Thornton, who donned a cabin boy’s dress in order to sail to New York in pursuit of a romantic interest, continuing life at sea as a man for around two years, though her story is contested. Some of the individuals found in the collection are well researched by historians of gender such as Jen Manion, who has written about ‘female husbands’ and sailors who ‘transed’ gender in order to take part in life at sea. About others, less is known. Nonetheless, these images offer a way in to examine the lives of such figures, the myriad gender expressions of people living at the time, and how gender was perceived in 18th and 19th century Britain.

Abigail Mary Allen, pretended wife of James Allen (1829), Oxford, Bodleian Library, John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, Humans 4 (19)

We can start to understand how gender was perceived in the past when we look at the images in the context of the collection and how it is categorised. In the catalogue of the John Johnson Collection, these images can be found under the headings Entertainment>Humans>4. The categories Humans 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 contain hundreds of images of people that would today be considered to have a disability, whether physical, mental or developmental, a disfigurement, an unusual cognitive ability, or who were transgender. Each person within these headings seems to have been considered a ‘curiosity’ and their images were generally published for the amusement of the general public. Taking a closer look at the images themselves, we can see in the print below the image that the heading ‘Humans’ was once called ‘Human Freaks’. This is the language that was used as the collection was first assembled by John de Monins Johnson and reflects the language of Victorian ‘freak shows’. Since arriving at the Bodleian in 1968, these headings have been reviewed and amended to remove harmful language (see A Note on Language at the end of this blog post). Nonetheless, examining the original language used helps us to understand the context of the images, which were perhaps seen as a printed exhibition for the public to browse, ogle, and laugh at. In fact, many of these images were collected from Kirby’s Wonderful Museum, a nineteenth-century publication which claimed to display ‘remarkable characters, including all of the curiosities of nature and art … drawn from every authentic source.’ Its intention as a source of entertainment through the exoticisation of anything and everything, including human bodies, is described in no uncertain terms. Categorising people as ‘curiosities’ may not have seemed out of place at the time, and it tells us how strange the notion of experimenting with gender expression was to these peoples’ cisgender contemporaries.

In some cases, the fetishization of transgender bodies goes hand-in-hand with the way that they were treated in their lifetimes. For one such person, Mademoiselle de Beaumont, also known as the Chevalier(e) d’Éon, this was certainly the case. D’ Éon was a French diplomat, spy and soldier born in 1728 and assigned male at birth. She lived for many years as a man, before beginning to live as a woman in 1777, eventually moving to England and being legally recognised as a woman. A clipping found next to her portraits in the John Johnson Collection demonstrates a fascination with her ‘questionable gender’. Though the clipping reads as an obituary marking D’Éon’s recent death, most of the text discusses the question of her gender, ending with the conclusion that, following an examination by a physician after her death, her body was that of a ‘perfect male!’ (emphasis in original). Other clippings from the collection also show a similar obsession with her gender that is reflected in how she is portrayed in Kirby’s Wonderful Museum.

La Chevaliere D’Eon (1791), Oxford, Bodleian Library, John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, Humans 4 (22b)

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The archives of poet Anne Ridler and printer Vivian Ridler are now available

The archive of two Oxford literary lights, poet and librettist Anne Ridler and her husband the printer Vivian Ridler, is now available to readers in the Weston Library.

Anne Barbara Ridler OBE (30 Jul 1912–15 Oct 2001), the daughter of Rugby School housemaster Henry Bradby and childrens’ author Violet Bradby, was an English poet whose first job was as a secretary for the poet T.S. Eliot at the publisher Faber and Faber. Early in life she met the poet, novelist and theological writer Charles Williams, a member of Oxford’s Inklings group (along with J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield, who also have extensive archival holdings in the Bodleian, see for example the Barfield catalogue). Anne maintained a close friendship with Charles Williams until his death in 1945 and her archive includes their extensive correspondence. She married the printer Vivian Ridler in 1938 and raised a family while also publishing ten volumes of her poetry and several verse plays (Anne Ridler in the Poetry Archive). Later in life she translated, mainly Italian, libretti for opera companies including the English National Opera. A practicing Anglican all her life, she had a particular interest in Christian poetry and wrote and lectured on poetry and poets including William Shakespeare, Thomas Traherne and T.S. Eliot. Her Collected Poems were published in 1994. She was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1998 and was awarded the Cholmondeley Award for poetry. In 2001 she was appointed OBE for services to literature.

Vivian Hughes Ridler CBE (2 Oct 1913-13 Jan 2009) was a printer and typographer who founded a private press while still in school. In 1931 he apprenticed to a printing firm in Bristol and in 1936 he took a job with Oxford University Press (OUP) as assistant to the Printer of the University of Oxford, John Johnson, whose personal collection now forms the core of the Bodleian’s John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, one of the largest and most important ephemera collections in the world. In 1938 Vivian married the poet Anne Bradby, who in addition to being the daughter of Henry and Violet Bradby was the niece of Sir Humphrey Milford, the publisher at the London office of OUP, and as a result Vivian was summarily fired by John Johnson, who considered Sir Humphrey Milford a rival. During World War II, Vivian Ridler served with the Royal Air Force as an intelligence officer. After he was demobilised in 1947 he became a lecturer in typography and a freelance designer. In 1948 he returned to the OUP and from 1958 until he retired in 1978 he held the post of Printer to the University of Oxford at OUP and from 1968-1969 was president of the British Federation of Master Printers. With his own Perpetua Press and other private imprints like Amate Press he published around thirty books from his garden shed during his retirement, including College Graces of Oxford and Cambridge (a different edition can now be found in the Bodleian shop) and some of Anne Ridler’s own work, including Profitable wonders: aspects of Thomas Traherne (SOLO).

Also newly catalogued and available is a separate album of early jobbing printing work by Vivian Ridler’s Perpetua Press.

The Elspeth Huxley catalogues are now online

Black and white portrait of Elspeth Huxley as a young woman, 1935, held by the National Portrait Gallery, UK

Elspeth Josceline Huxley (née Grant), 3 May 1935
by Bassano Ltd, half-plate glass negative
NPG x26719, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The three catalogues covering the Elspeth Huxley archive are now online [1] [2] [3].

Elspeth Josceline Huxley (née Grant) (1907-1997), an author and journalist who wrote extensively about Kenya and East Africa, was raised on her parents’ struggling coffee farm 30 miles from Nairobi. Educated mainly at home (except for a short stint at an English boarding school before she managed to get herself expelled) she spent her youth in Kenya but returned to England to study for an agriculture diploma at Reading University and then at Cornell in the United States. She never lived in Kenya again but the country continued to occupy her and she visited often and travelled widely across Africa and the rest of the world with her husband, Gervas Huxley, who established the International Tea Marketing Expansion board. They married in 1931 while she was working as a press officer, and Huxley continued to write to earn money.

Her first major commission was the biography of Hugh Cholmondeley, a leader of the European settlers in Kenya. White Man’s Country: Lord Delamere and the Making of Kenya (1935) became a definitive history from the settlers’ point of view.  Following this, Huxley stayed briefly on the Kikuyu reserve and out of this experience came her first novel, Red Strangers (1937), about the Kikuyu experience of white settlement of Kenya. She went on to write numerous detective novels including 1938’s Murder on Safari, as well as a stream of journalism on topics including Africa, farming and environmental issues. From the 1950s to the 1980s Huxley published further works about Kenya including a history of the Kenya Farmer’s Association, Out in the Midday Sun: my Kenya (1985) which was an edited collection of tales from European settlers, travel accounts and analyses of East Africa, and her semi-autobiographical, and most popular, works The Flame Trees of Thika (1959) and The Mottled Lizard (1962). Flame Trees of Thika was adapted for television in 1981. Huxley also wrote biographies of explorers and pioneers including David Livingstone and Florence Nightingale and spent time on commissions relating to Africa including a tour of central Africa from 1959-1960 as an independent member of the Monckton commission to advise on that region.

Her archive includes correspondence and diaries as well as working notes and research for numerous books including White Man’s Country and her well-reviewed economic and social analysis of British East Africa The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: A Journey Through East Africa (1948).

For further information see the Elspeth Huxley article in the Dictionary of National Biography.

New catalogue: the archive of Richard Shirley Smith

by Bethany Goodman

The archive of the artist Richard Shirley Smith is now catalogued and available to readers at the Weston Library.

Figure 1 Photograph of Richard Shirley Smith (MS. 21920 photogr. 44)

Richard Shirley Smith began his artistic career studying at the Slade School of Fine Art, before moving to Rome for a few years, a period reflected in a large portion of his following work. In 1963 he became a lecturer at the St. Albans School of Art, before taking up a position as Head of the Art Department at Marlborough College in 1966. Although he continued creating artwork throughout this time, it was during the 1970s when his work began to gather momentum.

From the late 1970s into the 2000s, Shirley Smith’s murals were a fixture in London’s interior design scene and featured in a number of magazines, including Vogue. Today, we are fortunate to have three such murals on display in the Weston Library, which we welcome readers to view next time they visit.

Not to be confined to bricks-and-mortar, Shirley Smith also established his work in the publishing world. His intricate wood engravings graced the cover and filled the pages of numerous special edition publications, including those produced by The Folio Society. Additionally, he was commissioned to create bookplate designs for several society figures, each showcasing the individual personality of the client, including several appearances of family pets. His contributions to a florilegium for Highgrove House, designed in conjunction with Charles III, then Prince Charles, can be considered a highlight.

Figure 2 Pulcinella Engine Driver (Second Version) ©Richard Shirley Smith, sourced from richardshirleysmith.co.uk

It is with his paintings and collages, however, that we see Shirley Smith’s own artistic preferences come to the fore. Included amongst these works are several paintings depicting groups of mischievous Pulcinella, my personal favourites, alongside thoughtfully constructed still life scenes and fabulous surrealist designs, many of which were displayed during a comprehensive exhibition at the Ashmolean in 1985.

The archive contains a small number of personal papers and materials relating to various publications and exhibitions. However, the strength of the collection lies in its representation of the diverse breadth of Shirley Smith’s work, with an extensive series containing original artwork in the form of: sketchbooks, prints, photographs, planning works and over 150 printing blocks, including both linocuts and woodblocks. This material presents a comprehensive overview of Richard Shirley Smith’s oeuvre, providing a wonderful snapshot into the work and life of an influential modern British artist.

Figure 3 Woodblock for A Point of Departure (1967) (JL 1072/9)

Updated Catalogue: Conservative Central Office – Publicity/Communications Department

The Archive of the Conservative Party is pleased to announce the arrival of its expanded catalogue of the Conservative Central Office Publicity Department. Known variously as the Publicity Department, Communications Department, Press and Communications Department, and the Department of Political Operations, this department has been responsible for the production and dissemination of the Party’s publicity material and propaganda, as well as facilitating relations with the media, since the 1920s. This important collection has more than doubled in size following the addition of over 90 boxes of material, providing a unique insight into the Party’s approach to publicity and communications over time. The expanded collection includes the papers and correspondence of several Directors of Publicity, planning files relating to television and radio broadcasting, and the logistics behind decades of election campaigns and Party Conferences.

A significant portion of this new material relates to, or was kindly donated by, Harvey Thomas (1939-2022), Director of Press and Communications from 1985-1986 and Director of Presentation and Promotion from 1986-1991. Thomas also played a valuable role as a political advisor to the Party, particularly contributing towards Margaret Thatcher’s publicity and campaigning strategy. Many of his papers can be found in files covering Party Conferences and events, the organisation of which he was heavily involved in throughout the 1980s.

Campaigning and publicity

Much of the newly available material in this collection relates to the Party’s campaigning and publicity, whether material created for specific general elections, by-elections, and European elections, or for general publicity and marketing, often involving the input of external advertising and branding agencies. These files include details of poster campaigns, campaign tour programmes and schedules, and draft publication designs.

Whilst the majority of the new files date from the late 20th century, a couple of interesting publicity guides from the 1950s (CPA CCO 600/25/1) and 1970s (CPA CCO 600/25/2) are included in the expanded collection. The former, a scrapbook containing examples of election literature primarily created during the 1955 General Election, sought to provide a reference guide to propaganda techniques to help those creating such publicity material in the future. It contains dozens of examples of election addresses, broadsheets, leaflets, and posters, each with annotations explaining what they had done well and suggesting areas for improvement. Below is an example of an election address from Ronald Watson, candidate for Newark in both the 1951 and 1955 General Elections, with accompanying praise for its ‘enterprising’ photograph montage and ‘lively and interesting’ centre pages (CPA CCO 600/25/1).

Election Material and Techniques, 1955 – CPA CCO 600/25/1.

In addition to the distribution of impactful physical literature, successful campaign tours and television and radio appearances have long been deemed essential contributors to election victory. Several newly available files detail the tours and visits undertaken by Margaret Thatcher during election campaigns, demonstrating the detailed planning these involved. The pages below, included in a preparation file for the 1983 General Election, are a good example of this. The left page contains a list of the publicity material created in the lead-up to the election, including ‘Maggie In’ car stickers and ‘10 Reasons for Not Voting Labour’ leaflets, whilst that on the right shows a draft outline programme for a ‘sample day’ for Thatcher touring away from London, detailing an extremely long day of meetings, interviews, rallies, and travel. Such files provide a great insight into the behind-the-scenes effort behind these campaigns.

1983 General Election preparations – CPA CCO 600/14/51.

Party Political Broadcasts

Also included in the newly available material are the annotated scripts, planning papers, and correspondence behind many Conservative Party Political Broadcasts (PPBs). These files illustrate the thought-processes behind the creation of these key forms of publicity, particularly the development of various iterations and drafts over time. The image below shows a ‘final final’ draft of a PPB from November 1985. This was set in a courtroom, the Government on trial for ‘making serious cuts in everything this country holds dear’ (CPA CCO 600/3/10/17). The broadcast contains admissions to numerous ‘cuts’ carried out by the Tories, including cutting income tax, inflation, and hospital waiting lists. In order to have maximum impact this was accompanied by a widespread distribution of leaflets and poster displays pushing the same message: only positive cuts had been made by this Government. Creative ideas like these were clearly deemed necessary to continue to catch the audience’s attention.

Party Political Broadcast 20/11/1985 script – CPA CCO 600/3/10/17.

All the material featured in this blog post, alongside the full updated collection of the Conservative Central Office Publicity/Communications Department, is now available to consult at the Weston Library. To browse the online catalogue, visit Collection: Conservative Party Archive: Conservative Central Office – Publicity/Communications Department | Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts (ox.ac.uk)

The life and poetry of Ivor C. Treby

Written by Kasturi Pindar, Bodleian Libraries intern, Summer 2023

Ivor C. Treby (1933-2012) was a biochemistry teacher by profession, though outside of his professional life, he considered himself a gay literary activist, as well as being an avid traveller and a collector of sand. He is perhaps best known for his research and work on Michael Field, the pseudonym of the Victorian lesbian poets, Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper. As a gay literary activist, he wrote his own poetry, which was published in magazines and journals internationally, and in collections released under his own imprint, De Blackland Press. He was also a member of the Gay Authors Workshop from its early years. By the time of his death, he had published five books on Michael Field and over 400 of his own poems. The motifs, imagery and sentiments found in his poems often reflects the various aspects of his life. Though his poetry is less well-remembered, his talent as a poet is clear when exploring his archive. Therefore, this post will highlight some of his poetry through the lens of his life experiences.

Born in Devonport, Plymouth, the son of a shipwright, Treby grew up by the coast. He lived here until he eventually moved to study, attending Exeter College, University of Oxford, where he studied biochemistry. The sea and the shore are themes that run throughout his poetry, testifying to the influence of life by the sea on his formative years. Many of his poems link the sea to his coming-of-age, or to romantic and sexual encounters that impacted his life. Others, such as ‘Respite’, simply express a feeling of calm and restful detachment that he felt when near the sea. His poem, ‘Sea Light’, describes the sea as part of his heritage, as the son of a shipwright, but importantly too as a young, gay man. He references areas of Plymouth that he frequented as a teenager, during his coming-of-age. The first and fourth verses are reproduced below.

‘Sea Light’

The sea was part of my heritage
I know all the old nautical traditions
Have heard of the phantom toffee-gobbler
Could give lessons on how to blow the man down
In a variety of interesting positions

Whenever I see a sailor now, I am back on Citadel Hill
Of an autumn twilight. Across the Hoe’s windy arena
The matelots come. My lads do you still
Walk the Barbican, and wait in Devonport Park
Still relish the hand of a youth on your trouser-leg’s dark concertina?

MS. Treby 16 © Darren Perry

***
After graduating from Oxford, Treby moved to London to teach biochemistry, working at Concord College in Tunbridge Wells, then Chiswick Polytechnic, before moving to Paddington College (now City of Westminster College). In 1978, he was charged and convicted of gross indecency under Section 13 of the Sexual Offenses Act 1956. By this time, he was out to his family and his colleagues. Nonetheless, he was subjected to disciplinary proceedings by Paddington College, as well as intervention by the Department of Education and Science who considered determining him to be a person ‘unsuitable for employment as a teacher’ as a result of his conviction. Historically, his case is important as it shows the limitations of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which is commonly thought to have legalised homosexuality in the United Kingdom. Though the 1967 act legalised homosexuality under certain circumstances, research has shown that following the passing of the act, policing of homosexual activity increased, and convictions of homosexual men for ‘gross indecency’ went up by more than 300%. Men continued to be arrested for actions as small as winking and smiling at other men in the street, or public displays of affection such as kissing and cuddling.

As his career was jeopardised by the Department of Education and Science, Treby defended himself vocally. In a written response to the Department of Education and Science, he wrote:

I feel myself under no obligation to give a ‘full explanation’ of a matter which,
(a) is totally irrelevant to my abilities as a teacher
(b) could only have arisen in a society with a grotesque attitude toward a minority of its people who obtain sexual fulfilment and love with adult members of their own gender. Kindly note the word love.

His conviction, and his vocal defence of himself, testify to how difficult it was to be openly gay, even 10 years after homosexuality had been supposedly legalised in the UK. His poem, ‘We Who Burn’ was written the year after the Sexual Offences Act 1967 and was one of his earliest open avowals of his sexuality. It was first published in The Gay Journal in the year of his conviction. The poem explores what it meant to Treby to be gay in the mid-twentieth century. Themes of silence, death and darkness are interspersed with the loss of youth and a reference to ‘cottages’. Writing about the poem later in life, Treby suggested that it may ‘have a permanent place in the history of gay poetry.’

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The archive of John Masefield is now available

On the tote bag that you can purchase from Blackwell’s bookshop on Oxford’s centrally located Broad Street, there is a poem by John Masefield:

I seek few treasures, except books, the tools
Of those celestial souls the world calls fools.
Happy the morning giving time to stop
An hour at once in Basil Blackwell’s shop
There, in the Broad, within whose booky house
Half of England’s scholars nibble books or browse.

Black and white portrait of John Masefield by Elliott & Fry, 1910s, National Portrait Gallery [NPG x82495], CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Deed

John Masefield by Elliott & Fry, 1910s, NPG x82495, CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Deed

Masefield, whose archive catalogue is now online, was Poet Laureate for thirty-seven years, and wrote many collections of poems, adventure novels, children’s novels, and plays. And yet when I asked in Blackwell’s out of curiosity whether I could purchase a copy of his poems, I was met with quizzical looks. Few had heard his name, and his works are not stocked. During my time as an intern for the Bodleian Library’s Archives and Modern Manuscripts department, I have learned a great deal not just about archiving, the diligence required, and the many departments involved – conservation, rare books, digital archiving, web archiving – but I have also discovered much about the man behind the tote bag.

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New catalogue: Poems for Anthony Thwaite

The title page of Poems for Anthony Thwaite, 1980

The title page of Poems for Anthony Thwaite, 1980

A volume of manuscript poems written by some of the greatest poets of the twentieth-century has been catalogued online and is now available in the Weston Library.

As Ann Thwaite records: ‘Early in 1980 I wrote to a great many poets, ones whom I thought Anthony admired, asking them if they would be prepared to write out…a poem for him, one they thought would give him pleasure’. The inspiration was a book that Siegfried Sassoon had compiled for Thomas Hardy’s 80th birthday in 1920.

Sixty three poets responded, and the resulting collection includes Philip Larkin’s contribution ‘The View at Fifty’ (unpublished at that time), John Betjeman’s ‘In A Bath Teashop’ (in a hand showing the effects of Parkinson’s Disease), Seamus Heaney’s ‘North’, Fleur Adcock’s ‘Future Work’, Ted Hughes’ ‘The Kingfisher’, Jenny Joseph’s ‘Welfare’, Paul Muldoon’s ‘Ireland’ and Kingsley Amis’ ‘Pill for the Impressionable’ (with an additional ‘Three little tips’).

The original manuscript volume is accompanied by a facsimile copy which contains an additional poem by George Szirtes and an explanatory afterword by Ann Thwaite. The facsimile can now be found in our book collections [order on SOLO].

Anthony Thwaite (1930-2021) was an English poet, critic, broadcaster and editor of the poems and letters of his friend, the poet Philip Larkin. The poets collected in this volume had all been published or broadcast by Anthony Thwaite as literary editor at The New Statesman (1968-1972) and co-editor of Encounter (1973-1985), as editor of the poetry list at publishing company Secker & Warburg, as editor at publisher André Deutsch, or as a radio producer at the BBC and literary editor of the BBC’s The Listener (1958-1965). He also regularly reviewed books for The Observer, Sunday Telegraph and Guardian newspapers and judged numerous literary competions. Ann Thwaite (1932-) is a biographer, including of the authors Frances Hodgson Burnett, Edmund Gosse and A.A. Milne; an author of children’s books; and a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement. She won the Duff Cooper Prize in 1985 for her biography of Gosse. Her AA Milne biography was the Whitbread Biography of the Year in 1990.

New Archive of the Conservative Party releases for 2024

Each January the Archive of the Conservative Party releases files which were previously closed under the 30-year rule. This year, files from 1993 are newly-available to access.

Despite the recession of the previous couple of years coming to an end, John Major’s third year as Prime Minister was dominated by internal Party conflict over Europe and low public popularity, manifesting in two significant by-election defeats. These issues are amongst those covered within the newly-released files for 2024, alongside subject files and briefs from Conservative Research Department (CRD), material of the Young Conservatives and Conservative student organisations, and correspondence and subject files of Conservatives in the European Parliament. This blog post will highlight some of the material included in this year’s newly-available files, with a full list linked at the end.

Europe and the Maastricht Treaty

In early 1992, European leaders signed the Maastricht Treaty to bring greater unity and integration between the countries of the European Economic Committee, creating the European Union. The Treaty officially became effective on 1 November 1993 once each county had ratified it, following referendums in Denmark, France, and Ireland. Whilst no referendum was held in the UK, the Maastricht Treaty did bring divisions to Parliament, especially the Conservative Party. A small number of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs voted with the opposition, who opposed the decision to opt out of the ‘Social Chapter’ rather than the Treaty itself, against ratification. Combined, these MPs were able to defeat the implementation of the Treaty in a series of votes due to the small Conservative majority at the time. Whilst Tory rebels failed in their campaign for a referendum, and Parliament did eventually ratify the Treaty, this happened only after John Major called a confidence motion in his own government. The issue of Europe, and the internal divisions it caused, undoubtedly defined Major’s early years as Prime Minister.

Many of this year’s newly-released files offer an insight into the way the Conservative Party viewed and approached the issue of the Maastricht Treaty, especially the debate over whether to hold a referendum. These can be found primarily in the collections of Conservatives in the European Parliament, CCO 508, and Conservative Overseas Bureau/International Office, COB. The image below shows two documents relating to the question of a referendum. The House of Commons Library Research Paper (left) provides details on the background to the Treaty and the arguments on either side of the debate, whilst the CRD brief of May 1993 (right) lists arguments against a referendum. These include the fact that the House of Commons had firmly defeated a vote on the issue, and that a well-publicised telephone referendum, ‘Dial for Democracy’, had received a poor turnout, suggesting limited public interest in the Treaty.

Maastricht Treaty: The Referendum Campaign – CPA COB/8/5/7, Folder 2.

Newbury and Christchurch by-elections

Internal Party divisions over Europe, alongside slow economic recovery, resulted in the Conservative Party suffering a couple of significant by-election defeats in 1993. The Party lost two seats, Newbury and Christchurch, which they had won by substantial majorities in the 1992 General Election. The Newbury by-election, held on 6 May, saw a swing of 28.4% to the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative Party losing this seat for the first time since 1923. Only two months later, the Christchurch by-election of 29 July saw an even higher swing of 35.4% to the Liberal Democrats.

This year’s newly-available files contain much material relating to these by-elections, including detailed constituency profiles, briefings, memoranda, and analyses of results. The following images show examples of the ‘lines to take’ created by CRD in the lead-up to these elections. Notably, whilst the Newbury by-election offered two options: ‘The Conservatives hold Newbury’ or ‘The Liberal Democrats take Newbury’, the later Christchurch election included an additional defeat option, allowing for either ‘Tories lose by less than 12,000’ or ‘Tories lose by more than 15,000’. Evidently, expectations had fallen. Whilst the Party won back Christchurch in the 1997 General Election, Newbury remained Liberal Democrat until 2005, illustrating misplaced confidence in the assertion that ‘come the next election, Newbury will return a Conservative candidate’ (CPA CRD 5/21/13).

Newbury by-election: Lines to take – CPA CRD 5/21/13.

Christchurch by-election: Lines to take – CPA CRD 5/21/14.

Conservative student organisations

Amongst the material being released this year are several files of both the Young Conservatives and Conservative Party student organisations, including the Conservative Collegiate Forum (CCF), also known as Conservative Students. Alongside the addition of these new files from 1993, the collection of Conservative Student Organisations, CCO 506/D, has recently been updated and expanded, offering a valuable insight into the political activities of Conservative students throughout the late 20th century. Files being released this year include assorted meeting minutes, conference papers, campaigning and publicity material, and research files. A significant amount of the material within this collection relates to the CCF’s campaign for voluntary membership of NUS (National Union of Students), a campaign which occupied much of their time and resources. The image below illustrates a couple of examples of the briefings and reports created by CCF during the late 1980s and early 1990s as they monitored and documented various student union ‘abuses’ perceived as evidence that student union reform, in general, was needed.

CCF research file: NUS and student unions – CPA CCO 506/65/3.

Rachel Whetstone, Conservative Research Department

Lastly, as in previous years, files of CRD, including subject files, briefs, and desk officers’ letter books, comprise a significant proportion of the newly-released files for 2024. Amongst these are a handful of letter books of Rachel Whetstone, head of CRD’s political section between 1992 and 1993. These offer an insight into the campaigning techniques and opposition monitoring carried out by CRD at this time. The image below shows a memorandum from Julian Lewis, CRD Deputy Director, outlining campaigning methods. Lewis argues in favour of negative campaigning, suggesting ‘We did not win the General Election – Mr Kinnock’s Labour Party lost it, largely as a result of the ‘fear factor’ which we and others had helped generate’ (CPA CRD/L/5/24/8).

Rachel Whetstone letter book: Political section – CPA CRD/L/5/24/8.

All the material featured in this blog post will be available from 2 Jan 2024. The full list of de-restricted items can be accessed here: Files de-restricted on 2024-01-02

The CRD catalogue is currently being updated and will be available shortly. In the meantime, if you wish to access any of the newly-available CRD files, please email conservative.archives@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

‘Handicapism is a mental disease of the able-bodied …and it affects us all…’

So reads a pin badge found in the collection of Keith Armstrong at the Bodleian Libraries Special Collections. The Bodleian holds just one box of Armstrong’s collection (the rest are held by the Bishopsgate Institute in London), but within it we can find evidence of Armstrong’s multifaceted life. Born in South Africa in 1950, Armstrong was an activist and public campaigner for disability rights. At six months old, he contracted polio, confining him to a wheelchair for most of his life. He spent much of his childhood in Oxford, attending Ormerod School, a school for children with physical disabilities. In his adulthood, he helped found the Liberation Network of People with Disabilities, and at different intervals, he was a member of the London Transport Passenger Committee and the committee of Camden Dial-a-Ride.

His collection at the Bodleian Libraries gives us an insight into the different aspects of Armstrong’s life: as a campaigner and voice for disabled rights; a creator of typewriter art; and a poet. It also shows us a darker side to his beliefs. At age 16, he began editing and publishing his own poetry and literature magazine, The Informer. The first issue of his magazine contained an article written by a contributor, Brian Crittindon, containing a repeated number of racial slurs and seeming to argue for Jim Crow laws in the US and against immigration into the UK. As the editor-in-chief of The Informer, it is impossible to ignore Armstrong’s role in producing and distributing material containing hateful language. With the records available, it is difficult to know whether Armstrong held onto these views into adulthood, or if he would have looked back with regret later in life. Whilst his achievements as a disability rights activist are undeniable—his work led to improvements in train and tube access, and to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995—it does remind us of the fact that when examined from all sides, those we admire in history often held views that are incompatible with our own values. It’s therefore important to be able to understand and appreciate the work of those who came before us, whilst acknowledging the impact of their faults and facets which were harmful to others.

Written by Kasturi Pindar, Bodleian Libraries intern, Summer 2023.

UK Disability History Month – 16 November – 16 December (ukdhm.org)

Collection: Papers of Keith Armstrong, typewriter poet | Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts (ox.ac.uk)